The role of grandmothers and stepgrandmothers in the social support systems of young adult grandchildren

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Child and Family Studies


Norma J. Burgess


Grandmothers, Stepgrandmothers, Social support, Adult grandchildren

Subject Categories

Family, Life Course, and Society | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Sociology


The purpose of this study was to examine the role of grandmothers and stepgrandmothers in the social support systems of young adult grandchildren. A convenience sample of 106 young adult college students completed the Inventory of Socially Supportive Behaviors (ISSB), evaluating the supportive behaviors of 72 grandmothers and 34 stepgrandmothers. There were quantitative differences in support provision and also differences in functional support between grandmothers and stepgrandmothers. Using one-way analysis of variance there were significant differences between grandmothers and stepgrandmothers for four functions of social support: (1) emotional support; (2) guidance; (3) social interaction and (4) tangible support. Both grandmothers and stepgrandmothers provided mostly emotional support, but grandmothers were more likely to provide advice and guidance than were stepgrandmothers. Correlation analysis revealed that provision of tangible support was more highly correlated with provision of other types of support for stepgrandmothers than grandmothers. Maternal grandmothers consistently provided more support than paternal grandmothers and stepgrandmothers. Regression analysis indicated no relationship between the number of living grandparents or the age of the child when the step relationship was formed and the total amount of support received. The results suggest that grandmothers may continue to provide supportive functions for grandchildren as they become young adults, remaining an important part of their grandchildren's convoy of social support. Increased understanding of the dynamics of (step) grandparent - (step) grandchildren relationships is essential to maximizing the benefits of intergenerational family relationships.


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